What to Think About When Designing a Custom Home

Designing a home is a constantly evolving process. It’s taking a small idea and nurturing it into life. No two home designs are alike, and the challenge of crafting a new home design is what I find most inspiring. That being said, there’s a lot to take into account when starting the home design process. As we work together to create your dream home, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:  

Have an open mind. Home design is not a black and white process. There are no boilerplates, and there’s nothing cookie cutter about my methods. Home design is a collaborative process. It’s important to be open to discussing new design ideas and solutions with your designer so that you can have the best possible experience.  

Future living. Before you commit to a home design, think about how you’re going to be living and existing in this house on a daily basis. What are the necessary and functional features you and/or your family require in order to be happy in your home? Make a list of your priorities, and work with your builder to help figure out how to make those goals a reality.

Aesthetics. Beyond functionality, the color pallet and themes of your house are integral to your design. Many designers and builders will work with you to blend different themes together to come up with the aesthetic that speaks the most to them. They often experiment with different elements and styles to figure out the one that best complements your home. A good designer or builder will never push for the styles that are in vogue. Their mission should be to find the style that best fits your lifestyle.  

Communication. Just as everyone has their own unique style and dream for their home, we all have different communication styles and ways of interpreting our needs. Before starting drawing process, you and your designer or builder should work together to generate concepts and plans of how you want your space to look. Making sure you’re constantly on the same page should be a priority during the design phase.  

Strategy. Design isn’t just putting pen to paper, it’s a practice that requires physical interaction with your space. Walk the lot with your builder and discuss how you want elements like sunlight, views, and neighboring homes to come into play with your home design. Strategize room planning and house placement based on the spaces you need to be illuminated by the sun. Contemplate the different angles in your home, and how to best maximize their use. It’s also important to think about the privacy levels your home requires, and what design strategies can be utilized to make sure you have the privacy you need.  

Every home builder and designer interprets creativity and inspiration differently. By considering these tips, and working closely with your designer and builder, you can ensure that your custom home is perfectly designed to meet your needs.  


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Steps to Take Before Renovating

Just like any other investment or major decision, it can be nerve-wracking to take the plunge into a home renovation. Before you sign on the dotted line with any contractor or designer, it’s important to evaluate every aspect of your future design and building process, to make sure it’s the right decision for you. Here are a few key things to consider before you re-design your home.  

Know the designer. Don’t just judge a designer by their website or social media pages. It’s important to get to know a designer beyond a preliminary level before you sign up with them. Ask about their experience, references, and credentials to get a sense of their previous work.  

Research. One of the trickiest parts of home design is determining the best style and design themes for you. This aspect requires research and patience. Read magazines & books, go online, and sift through the blogs and virtual home tours. Put yourself into these images, and you’ll be able to capture a sensory experience. You need to develop an understanding of what design elements are critical to your lifestyle and how you want your home to operate. Many clients find collage helpful — the pasting and splicing of different images that evoke their dream home vision can make it easier for them to imagine themselves in the new design. Watching HGTV and TLC shows can also provide inspiration, but it’s important to keep in mind that those projects are not always realistic for your time frame and budget.  

Timeline. A thorough and successful renovation takes time. That’s why it’s important to question if a re-design fits into your current life plans. Consider the time it will take to carry out the construction. You don’t want life to take a backseat when you embark upon a renovation. Make sure you have a dedicated project manager, who will act as a liaison between you and the contractors, so that the building process stays on time and on budget.  

Budget. How does this renovation play into your budget, financial timeline, and goals? Make sure that this re-design is a priority investment for your present and future. You’ll need to sit down and consider payment options, and weigh the pros and cons of a bank payment or cash.  

Stick to your priorities. It’s important to stay strong in your design convictions. Doing so requires that you effectively articulate and communicate your wants and needs for your renovation. Staying quiet, or brushing your ideas to the side, won’t allow for a successful re-design. What I’ve learned in my three decades of home design is that strong communication will help you get the most out of your re-design.  

Home renovation can be a challenging process. But taking the time to consider these important elements can make the process much smoother and easier.  


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Three Reasons to Install Solar

Solar panels allow homeowners and businesses to harness the power of the sun to produce electricity. Back in the day, solar energy was prohibitively expensive. Solar panels were pricey, and the solar arrays themselves were inefficient at producing energy, which translated to even more expense. Today’s solar panels are both less expensive and more efficient, making solar energy more affordable than ever.

Going Green with Solar
Solar energy is both clean and renewable, which makes solar energy an excellent option for environmentally conscious households. Solar energy does not utilize carbon-based fuels and produces no carbon emissions. As a result, solar energy does not contribute to air pollution. Solar energy is also infinitely renewable, unlike carbon-based fuels, which will eventually become exhausted.

Achieving Energy Independence
Installing solar panels can also help your household achieve energy independence. By producing your own electricity, you won’t be subject to sticker shock from high electricity bills from running your air conditioner during the summer. You will also be spared the effects of electrical blackouts, brownouts or power outages. And depending on the policies of your electric utility company, you may even be able to sell back any excess power.

Long-Term Financial Benefits
Even with significant reductions in price and added energy efficiency, installing a solar panel array still represents a significant initial financial investment. However, federal tax credits for up to 30 percent of the total installation costs are also available for solar panels installed on your primary residence through the 2019 tax year. Federal credits decrease to 26 percent for the 2020 tax year and decrease again to 22 percent for the 2021 tax year. These tax credits can significantly reduce the financial bite of installing solar panels.

In addition, you will also begin to recover your investment right away in the form of lower (or nonexistent) electric bills, and eventually, your solar panel array will pay for itself. Finally, installing solar panels also increases the resale value of your home. All in all, the investment made in installing solar panels is money well spent.


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Taking Your Home off the Grid

Back in the day, living off the grid was strictly limited to survivalists and remote rural areas. Primitive living conditions with few human comforts were the norm. Today, living off the grid is much more mainstream. With the proper off-the-grid setup, it is possible to operate household appliances and even heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems—eliminating the need for carbon-based fuels.

Reasons for Going off the Grid
Going off the grid is beneficial to individual households and to the greater environment. An off-the-grid setup frees households from volatile utility rates. In some areas, going off the grid can be less expensive than regular power. Some households even sell excess power back to their utility companies.

Environmental considerations represent a more altruistic motivation for going off the grid. Households that are off the grid are customarily powered by renewable energy, which translates to a reduction in the use of carbon-based fuels.

Off-the-Grid versus Grid-Tie Systems
In the strictest sense, going off the grid means being completely energy independent with no connections to the local power or utility company. By contrast, households operating with grid-tie systems produce most of their own energy but are still tied to the power company grid. This allows households to tap into the grid when solar panels or wind energy don’t produce sufficient power to meet energy needs. Grid-tie systems also allow households to sell excess power back to the power company, which is impossible with completely off-the-grid systems.

Alternative Energy Sources
In past decades, the high costs of renewable energy represented a significant barrier for going off the grid. However, prices for two of the most popular renewable energy sources, solar and wind, have dropped dramatically in recent years. Both solar and wind energy systems have become more efficient as well. In fact, solar systems can be used to power HVAC equipment.

Solar energy can be utilized in both rural and urban environments. Wind energy is more viable in rural environments; however, small turbine systems are also available for residential and commercial buildings in urban areas. Both solar and wind energy require storage for excess energy produced while systems are running. This stored energy also prevents brownouts when turbines or solar panels fail to produce enough energy. Geothermal systems are also fairly common in off-the-grid systems.

Off-the-Grid Considerations
If you are going completely off the grid, it is essential to ensure that your setup will generate enough power to meet your home’s needs. As stated above, a storage system is also a necessity. In some cases, that means adding a supplemental power source such as propane or a wood-burning stove. You’ll also need to check local regulations. Some power companies prohibit homes from going completely off the grid, making a grid-tie system a necessity.


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5 Things to Consider when Building a Custom Home

Perhaps the biggest advantage to building a custom home is that the design and construction are done to your precise specifications. Along with determining a budget, building a custom home requires considering these five factors: design, location, energy efficiency, local requirements and long-term livability. Working out these factors in advance can help ensure that the home you build is truly your dream home.

As the homeowner, you have the right to ensure that the design of your house meets the needs of your household as well as your personal preferences. However, unless you are a professional architect, contractor, designer—or some combination of the three—you should leave the specifics to the professionals. Have an architect translate your list of must-haves and wish list items into a physical design that a contractor and designer can bring into existence. Finding pre-drawn plans that fit your specifications is a less expensive alternative to hiring an architect, but the tradeoff is less flexibility for alternations.

You may have your heart set on building in a specific neighborhood. If so, ensure that the lot is large enough for the home you wish to build along with any additional structures, such as a pool, garage or outdoor patio. If you haven’t made a final determination for location, take an assessment of the way you live. Do you want to be near a downtown urban area or do you prefer the tranquility of a suburban setting? The most beautiful home in the world will never truly be a dream home if it is built in a location that doesn’t provide what you want and need.

Energy Efficiency
Features such as kitchen islands and double vanity sinks add significantly to a home’s convenience and value. However, such features should take a back seat to the building itself. Don’t skimp on features such as insulation, windows and doors. Investment in a well-designed heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) system, energy-efficient appliances and water-saving plumbing and fixtures is money well spent.

Local Codes, Regulations and Laws
Failure to adhere to local codes and regulations can cause your new home construction to be shut down mid-project. Educate yourself on applicable laws and any homeowner’s association requirements before beginning a building project. Ensure that your contractor has obtained the proper permits before construction begins.

Aging in Place
Once you’ve constructed your dream home, you’ll probably plan to live there for years, if not decades. Aging in place refers to the ability to remain in one’s home into old age. Features such as wide hallways and doorways and a lack of stairs or stairs that can accommodate an automatic lift make it easier to make necessary modifications to your home as you grow older. Proximity to public transportation and other amenities also makes aging in place possible.


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Designing a Better Kitchen

Installing a new kitchen ranks as one of the most popular home remodeling tasks, and it’s easy to understand why. Choosing high-end appliances and custom cabinetry is exciting. However, in the emphasis on designing a visually appealing space, many people forget these five essential elements of kitchen design:  


  • The Kitchen Triangle
    Many people consider the kitchen to be the heart of the home. It’s where food is prepared and, in many instances, where meals are eaten. The shape of your kitchen is less important than adhering to the principle of the kitchen triangle. The sink, refrigerator and cook top should form a triangle with no more than six feet between each element. Conforming to the kitchen triangle produces the most efficient arrangement possible for food preparation and serving.


  • Sufficient Storage
    Your kitchen should also include enough storage to accommodate small appliances, dishes and food. This may mean including extra cabinets for pots and pans, installing a pantry for food or extra countertop space for appliances like mixers and coffee makers. Consider future needs as well as present usage in planning for kitchen storage. If you’re not sure, it’s better to err on the side of more storage rather than less. Custom cabinetry is more expensive but may be a better choice in the long run because it uses space more efficiently.


  • It’s Electric
    Back in the day, the only kitchen appliances that required electricity were a toaster and perhaps a coffee pot. Today, microwave ovens, blenders, crock pots and electric knives all compete for electric outlet space with coffee makers and toaster ovens. Ensure that your kitchen contains enough electrical outlets to accommodate all your appliances. You should also ensure the circuits that serve kitchen outlets can handle the electrical load.


  • Taking Out the Trash
    No one likes to think about trash. However, planning a space for proper storage of trash and recycling receptacles is essential to maintaining a sanitary kitchen environment. Trash and recycling receptacles should be easy to access and store out of sight. If you plan to compost your organic trash, the composting receptacle should also be close to the kitchen but far enough away to prevent unpleasant odors from drifting in.


  • Proper lighting
    Proper lighting is frequently overlooked in kitchen design. However, task lighting is a necessity over kitchen workspaces such as the stove, countertops and the sink. Proper kitchen lighting should fall in front rather than behind so that you can see what you’re doing while prepping food, cooking or washing up after a meal.

Considering these five essential elements will ensure that your kitchen is functional as well as beautiful.


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